Steadfast Media Pick of the Week — From Eastern Orthodoxy to Lutheranism

From Eastern Orthodoxy to Lutheranism

Dr. Eugene Smith discusses his journey from a Orthodox deacon and priest to Lutheranism. Dr. Smith starts by talking about some of the attractions of the Eastern Orthodox in a post-modern culture. He goes on to discuss deification and how the Gospel is only clearly proclaimed once a year.


Issues, Etc. Original Air Date: September 8, 2005
Length: 46:25


Steadfast Media Pick of the Week — From Eastern Orthodoxy to Lutheranism — 6 Comments

  1. That was a good interview. Dr. Smith is right. I talked to an Orthodox priest not long ago. I asked him if Jesus’ death on the cross, all by itself, was enough to save? And was Christ’s righteousness imputed to the believer? We discussed a few things. At the bottom line, even he does not know if he is saved or not. A lot depends on “works.” He said, “. . . all we have is hope.”

    They absolutely do not believe in “justification by faith alone.”

    They believe in a “ladder theology.” (But they even admit that they adopted this theology from a man who wrote something up, but they don’t know much at all about the man himself — which seemed strange to me.)

    Here is more discussion online with some in the Orthodox church:

    So I wonder, how can some LCMS pastors give up “justification” to become an Orthodox priest? Maybe they like the “high church” liturgy and style of worship?

    When I go to a worship service in their church (with some family members), I can’t help thinking they need to read the book of Galatians and Romans a little closer.

    I’m not saying they’re not Christian. And I do respect them. But, do they need a Reformation? — Yes! (Maybe they could concede a little on what Martin Luther already found 🙂 )

  2. I remember reading a Lutheran theologian reconsidering the Roman Catholic Church. This was years ago. One thing stuck with me. He said that Roman Catholic theologians had consistently made a distinction between different kinds of merit and categorically denied that any person can be saved by means of absolute merit. Absolute merit means that someone can stand before God at the last judgment and declare that on the basis of his good deeds, he merits the reward of eternal life, that God owes it to him. In deed such a position is anti-Christian. I would go so far as to say that no Christian Church, including the Orthodox Church, explicitly teaches anything like absolute merit, though sometimes we like to accuse each other of this sin.
    Of course there may be members of any church that may be dangerously confused on this point. But then there is the teaching ministry of the church and the example of the saints to point us back to Christ alone. In the Orthodox Church for instance, though I cannot at the moment give you the exact references, I remember two such Godly councils.
    The first one, I think it was one of the Syrian Fathers, said that if you think that you can earn your salvation by good works you are deluding yourself. The dangers of self-delusion are a perennial theme in Orthodox devotional literature. He says that if you were seeing clearly, that you would realize that your sins far outweighed your good deeds and therefore serve no good basis for salvation. In the Orthodox Church the only fount of salvation is the Incarnate, Crucified, and Resurrected Word of God, a fact that cannot be easily missed in the Church’s beautiful hymnography, especially the cycle of 8 Sunday Resurrection Troparion and in the Pasch (Easter) services.
    The second one is from the book Unseen Warfare, which tells us that the first thing we must do if we hope to survive the spiritual battle is to realize that we cannot do it on our own, that we need a savior. Saints, those who are remembered as holy men and women, most recognized their own sinfulness and need for a savior. And so saints are images of Christ, their lives point us to Jesus. The vision of Christ always fills us with a sense of our inadequacy and throws us back onto the mercy of Christ which we ask for in a prayer repeated many times each day, if we are attentive to it.

  3. As for putting hope in works for salvation, as I said this is sub-Christian. Works flow from our gratitude to God and demonstrate the inner vitality of a living faith. Putting ultimate hope in anything but God is idolatry.

    I am an Orthodox Christian, but I recommend every Christian read the first chapter of Luther’s Longer Catechism, the chapter on the worship due to God and idolatry. Luther says that our god is that in which we put our hope, that in which we seek our security and to provide for us. Idolatry is for Luther, seeking these things outside the Lord. But I would also make explicit what Luther only hints at, that God uses intermediaries, not in the gnostic sense, but in the incarnational sense. The whole world is meant to be a gift, the love of God made tangible, the place of our encounter with the divine life of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. It is possible to see Christ in others, for Christ works in and through us to love people.
    Our food comes to us from the earth and the sun and the rain. We should not deny it. But the Christian also knows that the earth, the sun, and the rain are gifts of God, not things in themselves to be worshiped or hoped on. Not something to give our hearts to, but something that points our hearts back to God. The pagans’ idolatry was abominable because he worshiped each of these things in themselves, not wanting any kind of relationship with the Infinite Personal Creator God behind it all. If he was sick, he had a god of healing that he made a sacrifice to. If he needed rain for his crops he hoped in the rain god. If he was in love he prayed to the god of love to assist him in wooing. C.S. Lewis was trying to teach this same principal, when he said that unbelieving doctors and scientists today think that things happen in the universe because of forces. Medicine heals, wine ferments, hurricanes rage, and so on because of forces, which they feel the need to harness and describe without reference to God.

  4. The Nicene Creed tells us about the God who reveals himself as self-giving love. The Father giving himself entirely to the Son and the Spirit, the Son and Spirit giving themselves entirely to the Father. The Father giving himself creating the world, the Son giving us himself on the cross, the Spirit giving us all his gifts to make us holy. The words “I believe” mean to give one’s heart, to unite oneself to God. “I give my heart to One God, the Father Almighty, and to One Lord Jesus Christ, and to the Holy Spirit, the life-giver.” God is the first to give, that is obvious. And as Luther believed, if God is giving himself, when we receive what God gives we receive God himself in order to become more like God, who is self-giving love so that, hopefully, our limited love can becomes perfected, so that we can become holy as he is holy. That is faith. That is the Christian life. That is salvation.
    As for the question of whether I am ultimately saved. That is not a question of the ability of God to save. Christ demonstrates in all the mighty deeds we celebrate in the Evangelical Feasts that he has overwhelmingly triumphed over all obstacles and enemies to our salvation. And this salvation flows from God’s never giving up determination to love fallen mankind and raise us up to Communion with him to be partakers of the divine Life. In other words God is not content to let our limited fallen beginning fully determine what mankind will ultimately become in the end. Rather, he gives his only Son out of infinite self-giving love to bring into the world a new and better ending. He is the only one who could do this for us. But we must receive that new life of salvation in Christ. We can reject it.

    Some people interpret the idea of “reception” as a work, but this is not a way of thinking that we accept.

    If this is the point at which we disagree, at the question of free will, then we have discovered our real disagreement, and we do not have to pretend it has to do with merit or faith in God alone. Orthodox Christians do not put faith in themselves for salvation.

    Am I saved? I put my hope in God alone because he is the only one capable of saving and he is all merciful and the lover of mankind. Some have pointed out that the liturgies of the western rites do not often or at all speak of God as the “Philanthropos” the Lover of Mankind. Many of our prayers end, “for you are good and the lover of mankind. Do I hear the gospel regularly? Yes I do, many times each Sunday. Who do I put my trust in to save me? Jesus Christ, to whom I ask for mercy in continual prayer.

    “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.”

    I hope this clarifies and brings greater understanding and respect between us. I am happy to answer any questions, though I am certainly not a theologian or an authority, just a layman.



  5. I want to clarify in what way faith and reception are not kinds of work by which we “earn” our salvation. Faith is always faith in someone or something. I may think I am saving myself and so I “have faith in myself.” But if I do not believe that I am saving myself I will put my faith in whoever I believe is the savior of mankind. The Orthodox Church clearly teaches that Jesus is good and the lover of mankind. If one accepts this message of salvation in and through Christ and gives himself to Jesus then we say he has faith because he or she is placing all their trust in one person for their salvation, namely Jesus Christ and not themselves. This is how we receive the gift of salvation and it involves a way of being open and accepting the gift of salvation. But this gift is always prior and we have nothing to do with it and could never earn it. It is like the air we breath. We did not put the air their and we could not earn our next breath. The atmosphere is pure gift. But we can choose to hold our breath and die. Yes we must breath, we receive the gift, but even in this we are not alone able to act to breath without lungs which we did not ourselves provide for ourselves. Likewise in salvation, we must say yes and receive the gift. We could never earn the gift, we could not even receive the gift without the heart within us which is itself a gift. And it is exactly in the act of saying yes that we are most passively inclined to the Lord, acknowledging our own utter weakness to save ourselves and hope in him alone to save. So saying yes is not a crypto-work. As for the works we do, Lutheran’s agree, that sanctification is the work of Jesus in our lives. It is not as though Christ’s work ends at conversion of the heart or at Baptism. It is always Christ working in and through us and in the context of our lives that is drawing us closer to himself and healing our diseases and refashioning us into the better image and likeness of God. I have a fine Lutheran book called, “Sanctification, Christ in Action.” Wonderful book. So what is a ladder of divine accent? It is exactly a way of living that is focused on the constant remembrance of God, submitting to the divine curing therapy of Christ in Action, to make our selves ever more open and attentive to God in Christ already enthroned on the heart by purification of the heart and avoiding all distractions from the same, especially the delusion that we are spiritually great and worthy and advanced and not in need of a great salvation. Like I said before, the greatest saints, those who have “ascended” if you want to call it that,” who see more clearly the vision of Christ, they know better than the rest of us their lowly sinfulness in comparison to the all Good One, and their great need of a savior, and correspondingly, they know the goodness and mercy of the lover of mankind and his determination to save.

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